Lessons Learned from Self-Inflicted Adversity

It was late in the day, three days before Christmas. I left the office to run an errand for Sarah and then go home to pack for our trip the next day to see her parents. 2021 had been a challenging year, so I was relieved to have made it to the finish line. 

Then my phone rang. Our Director of Operations, Jim, wanted me to visit one of our future leaders the next day. Jim had offered this person an exciting new opportunity inside our business, so he wanted me to meet them and see if I could close the deal before Christmas. 

Admittedly, this “ask” excited me. It made me feel needed and matched my strengths. The only issue, however, was that I was going to be on the road early the next morning. I asked Jim if I could email the person instead? Jim replied that while a face-to-face conversation would be preferred, an email may be enough to push this over the finish line. I agreed and assured Jim that I would craft the email as soon as I got home that day — late in the day of what turned out to be my last official workday of 2021. 

After getting home, I told Sarah and the kids that I needed a little alone time in my home office. Closing the door, I could still hear my kids running around as they were excited to be leaving for Christmas the following morning! I told myself that I just needed to compose a quick email and be done. After all, I reminded myself, I am good at this. 

So I began writing. I was rather direct. This person is an upcoming leader in our company, and I felt strongly that this move would be positive. I encouraged them to distinguish themselves over others at their level by taking this opportunity. I told them that it would position them as a future leader in the company. After reviewing my email a few times and softening the tone, I hit send. It was time to pack. 

I did not hear back from my email until the first Sunday of the New Year. The response I received was a rather direct reply and did not offer much hope of the person taking the opportunity. The following day, they turned it down.

Adversity Lessons Learned

At this point in the post, you might be wondering why I am sharing this story? There are several reasons. 

First, in the context of this month’s theme of adversity, there is arguably no worse adversity than the kind you bring on yourself. Upon reflection, I wrote that email in a state of fatigue and emotional exhaustion. I was also prideful. I felt that I could “close the deal,” and that ego had come through in the email. And so we are clear, I am responsible for choosing to write the email. I own this mistake. 

Second, email was a terrible choice for this communication; I should have opted for the face-to-face discussion Jim requested. The situation could have easily waited until January 3rd. This was another poor decision on my part. 

Third, I am sharing this story because of the very direct response I got back. As Jim said when I shared it with him, it was a gutsy response. And it really was! It ticked me off. But turnabout is fair play. In hindsight, I’m sure that my email ticked them off — so, what did I expect in return? But there’s more to it than that. Do I want a team that feels like they can lay it all out to me? Or do I want a team that complies with what I say, no matter what? The answer is that I want a team that tells me EVERYTHING. Period. 

Finally, I am sharing this because regardless of everything — that I came off too strongly, that email was a poor form of communication, and that I want our team members to feel comfortable being open and honest with me —  I still think the person should have taken the opportunity! 

Avoiding Adversity ≠ Avoiding Disagreement

The point I am trying to make here is that two people can disagree about a new idea and still be together. In other words, there are no repercussions for disagreement. Dog houses are reserved for the backyard and the National Football League. They do not belong on a cohesive team. 

Admittedly, this was a humbling lesson for me to end 2021 with. I share it with you here in the hopes that you can learn from my missteps and avoid your own self-inflicted adversity.